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New ZealandThe Flight to New Zealand plus the time change meant that we did not get to the hotel until late. After getting a rundown on our itinerary we decided that we were going to some really out-of-the-way places and on small planes so we should repack and store what we would not need (we were returning to the hotel in 9 days).
We did not have a plane until noon and so had a couple of hours to get a brief look at Auckland. It is built on several volcanoes and so is very hilly to walk. The hills plus the damp, chilly atmosphere make the city a four Aleve stop. We just had time to change money and visit two outdoor markets. We went from there to the airport (so to speak). It was small and mobbed. The lines were so long that we were sure that we would miss the plane. With less than 10 minutes to spare we were at the check-in counter - a sure missed plane at Dulles. The clerk called the flight and arranged for our bags. We rushed to security and discovered that there was none!
After we boarded the plane it became obvious why. It was a small two engine Beech. He ride was a little bumpy but the landing was a nightmare, the pilot was good, the wind was not. We were then taken through the very small town and put on a ferry to go to a vineyard estate. The town the ferry leaves from was notorious as a place where thieves, murders, and so forth congregated. It was a whaling town with all the needed wine, women, and some singing. The owner rents out his home when he is not using it. Quite extraordinary. Four bedrooms, private beach, tennis court, two fireplaces, boat house, huge rear screen TV (satellite connected), huge living room, library, a full wall of wine, liquor, beer and soft drinks, etc., etc. The only people in the place. Really nice. Secluded and quiet.
Dinner turned out to be a kick. The house we are staying at is away from anywhere. The only place to eat is at a restaurant tied to the winery - way up the hill. The told us they would send somebody to fetch us for supper. They did - the chef! There was no one else in the restaurant - very slow this time of year - so the staff served, entertained, and cooked for us. The wine from their vineyard was the best I have had in Australia and the food was superb.
The next morning we went on a tour - with an amusing dance at the gate of the winery, the gate opens electronically and every time we would pass the electronic eye and head for the gate, the owner's dog would run behind, set off the eye, and close the gate. The tour started with a visit to the oldest settlement in New Zealand. It has the first church, school, store, etc. Quaint. The people who live by the seashore own the houses their ancestors did. The town was very old New England or sea town. One of the interesting sights is the place that Zen Grey began his writing. Had to figure Westerns from New Zealand but who am I to argue with tourism history.
In the afternoon we went to a forest preserve. The place actually looked more primitive than the rain forests in Australia. In this forest, there are several samples of giant Kauri trees. These were used by the Maori used them to build canoes. In fact, they were used to build everything as they are impervious to everything, decay, rot, insects, and so forth. They are interesting trees while alive also. They grow for thousands of years and reach great heights (although not as high as the Redwoods). They self heal any abrasion or cut and shed any parasitic vine that tries to grow on them. Very impressive.
The ride continued through agricultural areas growing many varieties of fruit and nuts, wine and herds of cows, goats, sheep and other animals. We stopped to mail a package home. CC found a piece of driftwood and it was too big to carry with us. We stopped at a couple of tourist places (believe it or not, to watch chocolate being made). Finally, we stopped to watch a craftsman make kaleidoscopes. The farm was a hoot with all kinds of fowl running free. See if you can spot the other watcher (behind the bush) in the peacock picture.
TaupoA town at the head of the largest lake in the Southern Hemisphere. After two rides in two other small planes, we are driven to Huka Lodge. Really nice. The first thing they do is inform you that the king and queen of England and Holland all stayed here. Also, it is one of the finest lodges in the words - so say whoever rates lodges. The sales pitch is silly however; the room rates would tend to give one the hint that this wasn't a Holiday Inn.
In spite of the hype, it is beautiful and remote. Just outside the room is a large trout stream (they have fly and spinning rods you can borrow). The lake itself is full of trout, browns, rainbows, and lake trout. Reminds me of Cayuga Lake and years ago. The town is small but contains a unique artifact that I have not seen duplicated anywhere.
In the background of the lake are some of the taller mountains in this part of New Zealand. Volcanoes, which have erupted in the last couple of years. Makes their skiing even more exciting. Just below the lodge is a waterfall. The stream and the waterfall are fed by the lake and are regulated by the letting of water from the lake to control the level of the lake - which is fed by mountain streams. It is seldom that I wish I was younger but it is interesting that at this stage in my life I am so close to some of the best trout fishing in the world.
Today was the day to look at volcanoes. We saw water boiling, and water boiling, and water boiling and steam and hot water and very hot water, and hot mud. Frankly, I will never be able to look at a pot of boiling water the same again. The day, and previous night started with unseasonably cold weather - minus 3 degrees Celsius (very cold for here) and didn't get better until later in the day when it danced between showers and clear weather. The countryside was frosted (another rare occurrence saved for our trip) and was a shock to the livestock and vegetation.
We were with a guide that could not get out a sentence without mentioning Carol or my name - it drove us crazy as the day went on. The Maori (the original inhabitants of New Zealand from the Polynesian Islands) are the principle history that the country has. Very interesting and very different from the aboriginals of Australia. The history is fun to hear for a while but trying to get one's tongue around place names is tongue-tying. We started with a tour of a museum which was a reconstruction of an original arthritis hospital that was built around the volcanic waters that were supposed to have healing powers. The waters were enhanced with electronic shock therapy. The place is used as a museum for the Maori culture but is designed around the British clubs - for cricket, crochet, and lawn bowling. The day was split between looking at the earth boiling and Maori sites. The day ended with a trip through a California redwood forest. A neat touch - the trees grow faster here but so fast that they are not useful for anything-too soft.
Dining at the Lodge is split between eating in private spaces that are tucked throughout the property or in a communal dining area that is set up with picnic tables. I have eaten communal style only once before in a public setting (in Moscow) but Carol wants to try it so we will.
Chardonnay FishingWe are still at Huka Lodge in Taupe. Today we were scheduled to take a hike up a mountain and down again for four hours and then have lunch on a boat in the Lake. It has been raining and is slippery. Bad idea. So we are offered the chance to go trout fishing on the lake instead. The evening before, one of the guests at the cocktail hour told about going "Chardonnay fishing". He described the trip as guides setting up rods and the boat trolling until a fish bites. Nothing to do but wait (and drink). Carol is game and I am ecstatic. How can you lose?
We fished for four hours and caught nine fish, all but one of which we released. The one caught is being brought back to the Lodge and is to be prepared by the chef as a sushi appetizer to be shared with all the guests. Trout is a fish in New Zealand that cannot be commercially fished or farmed. The only way to get one is to catch it or have it given to you by someone who has a valid fishing license. Part of the tour package is a license issued to you one the boat. The fish was served as a sashimi appetizer for everyone in the lodge that evening. It was delicious, and I really don't like fish.
Lunch was great and the scenery was spectacular. A great and unexpected time.
ChristchurchThe first stop in Christchurch is the Antarctic Research Center exhibit. Maybe not for the fist time in the trip but tied with whatever is first, I really know as much, in fact more about the research center than the guides. The cooperation in the Antarctic is presented as a scientific cooperative endeavor between such nations as the US and Russia. The fact that the agreement to cooperate on scientific matters was signed after the Cold War ended and that the principle support for he base was from DOD on our side, seems to be lost on the guides. But fun nonetheless.
The city is very planned (not as well or as rigid as Alidade). A major portion of the present center city was owner by one farmer (650 acres). His home was large and well landscaped. It is maintained today. The river that runs through the city runs through this former farm and contains homes that border the river.
The downtown area is built around a cathedral that is exactly at the city's center. The center is a square that contains a number of monuments, one of which was constructed for the millennium celebration. It is called the ice cream cone. A nice city but comparatively dull. On the other hand, there is a large Japanese population and the stores are quite chic.
CassCass is a stop on the Transalpine RR line. The RR line is one of the ways you can get from the east to the west coast of the South Island. It travels through some gorgeous countryside as it winds its way through one of the two passes over the Southern Alps. We boarded the train with several other sightseers who were interested in getting a view of the mountains. We were on our way to the Grasmere Lodge, a working Station (read ranch) that raises cattle, and deer for meat and sheep for wool. The property also has on it a Lodge that is very busy in their summer (our winter) but is deserted now. We are the only guests tonight. The full staff, including the owner and his wife are ours.
We had a drive around the property. It took an hour. Three lakes, 30,000 acres, multiple streams, mountains and valleys everywhere. The place we are staying in is a brand new addition to lodge. Nice but lonesome.
Snowed in. The next day we were to have gone to the west coast of the South Island however we awoke to a snowstorm that was just serious enough to keep us cabin bound. Because the staff and the owners had done everything in their power to make us comfortable, this wasn't so bad. Except, we had to get over the pass the next morning to catch the connecting plane. The owner felt that the weather was so iffy that he was going to have his wife and staff ( who were going to Christchurch the next day) leave that day rather than try to get their the next morning. We went also. Discretion is the better part ---.
Auckland - againAlthough this is the third time that we have been in Auckland we have never spent any tourist-time there. We were met at the airport and went for a tour around the city. Really a surprise. Very sophisticated. The city, like much of Australia and New Zealand is connected to water but unlike many other cities, the majority of the population is able to live in a place that has an affordable view of a body of water. The city is a mix of the old in terms of Maori settlements and volcanoes (~30) and very new. The city, again like much of New Zealand and Australia, is composed of sailors. The city is very proud of it s super sail boats.
Supper was at the hotel. We have been having too much too eat so we had a snack at the bar. We ended up watching an Aussie-rules football match. Kind of like football except that the players haven't suited up yet and the players and the referee are making up the rules as they go along. Mayhem but not boring.
We decided to be on our own today. We took a ferry to Waiheke Island to see the harbor and to walk on the island. The place was pretty but up and down. The principal business of the main town was selling real estate on the island - more than half the shops.
We stayed for a couple of hours and came back to engage in what the natives call "retail therapy". We shopped in an upscale section of town that reminded us of southern California. Bought some more souvineers. Will try another such area tomorrow and then board the plane for the States.
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